The Kern County Law Enforcement Agency attempted to put pressure on the Board of Supervisors during negotiations for a new contract Tuesday by staging a rally at the board meeting, during which many sheriffs deputies and family members complained of low pay and retention rates within the Sheriff’s Office.

Emotions were high. Some who spoke during public comment cried, while others shouted. Near the end of the meeting, the vast majority of the deputies and their supporters staged a walkout during a statement by county leadership about the negotiations.

“We are concerned about the level and quality of public safety services being delivered to the communities of Kern County,” KLEA President Tim Caughron said during the meeting. “Due to lack of maintaining the compensation levels of deputy sheriff’s, we have become the lowest paid agency of comparable size in the San Joaquin Valley.”

Wearing coordinated blue shirts, and telling stories of diminishing deputy ranks, slow response times and poor staff morale, the union tried to win support from the supervisors in an effort to increase their salaries and force the county to hire more deputies to fill gaps in the department.

Many KLEA members and their spouses spoke of the emotional toll the sheriff’s department takes on its employees.

Debbie Weiss, whose husband works as a K9 deputy, broke into tears during her comments to the supervisors.

“My children did not have their dad there at their graduations. My husband wasn’t there for my mother’s funeral. He’s missed holidays. He’s missed so many family functions,” she said. “There just aren’t enough deputies out there to cover (the entire county).”

The KLEA and the county will meet Monday to try to resume contract negotiations. The union has been operating without a contract since the beginning of the year. Three weeks ago, 95 percent of the KLEA membership rejected a deal agreed upon by both the union’s leadership and county negotiators.

That deal provided 2.5 percent pay raises across the board for staff, but cut a portion of overtime payments, which Caughron said would have resulted in an overall decrease in pay for deputies, a claim disputed by the county.

The deal offered to the KLEA union was different than the original compensation package the county negotiation team first proposed to the heads of the KLEA when negotiations began in March.

Devin Brown, chief human resources officer for the county, said that union leaders rejected an offer that would have increased the starting salary for deputies by 10 percent, and also included retention bonuses for employees who stuck around for more than eight years.

Union leaders eventually negotiated the 2.5 percent across the board increase that was rejected by the vast majority of union members.

The extent to which negotiations had soured between KLEA and county leadership became clear when nearly every member of the KLEA rally who attended the meeting walked out of the supervisor’s chambers during a statement by County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop as he attempted to explain the initial contract offer the county had made to union leadership.

“We, I think, provided a proposal that was something that we could build on,” Alsop said. “I think it had some good things in it, particularly for some of the people who have stuck around and been loyal.”

One member of the rally yelled “stop talking and take action,” during Alsop’s statements, which received a round of applause before the KLEA rally members exited the room.

The contract negotiations come at the same time as a the community considers whether or not to approve a 1 percent sales tax increase on November’s ballot.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood originally brought the proposal for the tax increase to the supervisors, saying he worried that if the county did not act, and a ballot measure for a 1 cent sales tax increase in the City of Bakersfield passed, scores of deputies would leave the county for the Bakersfield Police Department, which offers higher salaries to officers.

The county sales tax, which would only apply to sales in unincorporated county areas, is projected to raise $35 million annually, which would go into the county’s general fund.

If the supervisors split up the additional general fund revenue as they currently do, the county’s public safety’s departments would experience a windfall of $20 million per year, which could be used for raises for sheriff’s deputies.

But there is no guarantee that Kern County voters will approve the sales tax increase in November, and until a deal can be reached between the county and the union, deputies will be operating under the conditions of last year’s contract.

Retired sheriff’s deputy Daures Stephens was tired of the back and forth between KLEA and the county.

“This is a leadership issue,” he said. “If we’re going to have some of the lowest paid deputies in California, then the supervisors need to be the lowest paid.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415 or smorgen@bakersfield.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

(12) comments

Vavoom

it is common that law enforcement and their supporters reject any type of tax increase for public, social based programs but yet the sheriff runs right to asking for a tax increase. what is the role of law enforcement in our community?...show up, take report, then ....????. there is no partnership with the community, definitely a "we versus them" operation. we can not blame the officers but their leader.

Bluecollar

The sheriff needs to make changes to run the department efficiently, but the KLEA has too much power in how the department is staffed. For one, he could replace the transportation unit with detention deputies who are cheaper. I've heard the argument that they need the patrol deputies driving a bus, so they can pull from the transportation unit in emergencies. I found out this where they put deputies that cant pass field training, so basically there a glorified detention deputy. I support a raise for law enforcement, but I get tired of hearing how they are under paid compared to Los Angeles, Ventura county etc. Well these counties have much higher home values, so the incoming tax revenue is higher. I looked on transparent california and the average topped out deputy makes an average of $125,000.00 a year not including retirement and benefits. Thats pretty good pay for a Kern County resident. I support a tax increase if its not used to support the unsustainable pension system that was given to our county workers by politicians who negotiated not in the best interest of the tax payer. This is because our politicians are not held accountable for bad financial decisions.

RICHARDFITZWELL

You are extremely incorrect sir. The base salary for a topped out Deputy Sheriff is a little over $77,000. If they made $125,000 they wouldn’t be complaining. Please run your info by an actual deputy prior to posting. A topped out Deputy would have to work over 30 hours of overtime per pay period to make your $125,000.

Bluecollar

Your right about the base salary, I was just going off what the average pay was with overtime.

lrlopez74

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/01/the-county-kern-county-deadliest-police-killings

Seventy-five years after Kern County’s leaders banned The Grapes of Wrath from their schools and libraries, complaining that John Steinbeck’s new book portrayed their policemen as “divested of sympathy or human decency or understanding”, officer Aaron Stringer placed his hands on the body of James De La Rosa without permission.

De La Rosa had just been shot dead by police officers in Bakersfield, the biggest city in this central California county, after crashing his car when they tried to pull him over. He was unarmed. Now the 22-year-old oilfield worker lay on a gurney in the successor to the coroner’s office where Tom Joad’s granma awaited a pauper’s funeral in the 1939 novel.

Stringer, a senior Bakersfield officer whose plaudits for once saving a colleague in peril had been overshadowed by his arrest for a hit-and-run while driving under the influence of prescription drugs, reached under the bloodied white sheet and tickled De La Rosa’s toes. Then, a junior officer reported to commanders, he jerked the head to one side and joked about rigor mortis.

“I love playing with dead bodies,” said Stringer.

Bodysnatcher

Every example of law enforcement in your insane post is Bakersfield Police Department. Get back to your geriatric bong and mellow out.

ReefRanger

Not to mention completely off-topic and anti-law enforcement, AS USUAL.

lrlopez74

If you don't like your jobs, you are welcome to quit. We don't need law enforcement as racist and as ready to kill as the fascists in Kern County.

RICHARDFITZWELL

We can’t all rely on welfare Mr. Lopez.

ReefRanger

1000 ^votes!

ReefRanger

If you don't like this county, you're also welcome, as well as highly encouraged to MOVE.

ReefRanger

In addition, how would you like your job (assuming you have one) if people in comparable positions were being paid better, and had better working conditions than you do?
It is clear you have NO idea the dangers and challenges these officers face every day, nor the split second decisions they are called upon to make. Every post you make here is hate-driven, for reasons only you know. You don't speak from any point of valid experience on this issue, you post about a decades old case which has nothing to do with the topic. Put your money where your mouth is and go spend a night on patrol with the deputies whom you are so quick to call "fascists", and experience the garbage they are exposed to every shift. Until you walk in their shoes, keep your stupid opinions to yourself. I would have made that statement stronger, but the snowflakes that moderate this site wouldn't allow it. I'll let you guess what I meant. You're pretty good at guessing about things, quite obviously.

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